It must be spring because there are bunches of software conferences taking place. Just in the last two weeks, my company Propel was at SaaStr and Pacific Design & Manufacturing, plus doing some fun marketing at Oracle’s Modern Supply Chain Experience. To get ready for these shows, we had to make sure we had some rock solid demos of our newest features. As the show dates got closer, we discussed whether we should show a pre-recorded demo versus a live demo, especially since some of the new features needed a little bit more “polish.” Recorded demos look nice since they smooth out the kinks in new software, but I’m not a big fan since they can be deceiving. Thanks to the work of our developers and partners, we didn’t have to go the canned demo route and were able to show real live software demos to potential customers.

Even though we showed real software, I realized that during many software conferences, there’s a lot of vaporware, hocus pocus and #fakenews that software companies show to prospects and customers. It’s OK if vendors tell people that it’s a prototype or recorded demo, but many times, companies don’t disclose that, and many customers can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s a #fakedemo.

So how do you cut through the #fakenews and spot a #fakedemo? Here are some things to keep in mind so you understand what you’re watching and make sure you’re seeing the real goods.

  • Demo movies: The most common way to get around a live software demo is to record a video, and then play the movie back to a live audience as if it were a real demo. Both Macs and PCs have ways to pause and restart movies without clicking a mouse, so it looks like the demo person is showing software while, in reality, he’s just pressing a key and pretending to move a mouse. The biggest giveaway — there’s no lag time between screens and everything loads instantly, which means that the movie has been edited to take out any awkward pause. Another way to spot a movie is at the beginning or end of the movie. If you pay attention, you’ll see the playback controls at the start of the movie. At the end of the movie, the person “demo-ing” the software will change screens or just leave the last screen up until you walk away.
  • Clickable demos: Adobe Captivate is one of many recording tools that allow companies to record static screenshots and link them together so they look like a software simulation. It’s meant for training, but works great for a #fakedemo. When demo-ing, the person can click around a number of different “hot spots” that advance the demo along its storyline. These type of canned demos are harder to spot, but you may notice that there’s a very thin playback control on the bottom of the screen, or the screen resolution of the demo is a bit off (for example, there’s some white space because the recording can’t fill up the whole screen). And of course, look for pages that load instantly.
  • Full HTML prototype: The most sophisticated #fakedemo I’ve ever used was at Oracle. However, I always told customers that it was a prototype and a vision of where we were headed, so everyone was OK with it (at least that’s what I told myself). The person who built this HTML demo for Oracle Projects was a demo genius. Every screen was fully mocked up — you could edit any field, click on any item, save — it was great. And very hard to see that it was all completely fake... and that I demo’ed this for two years. The only way to tell it was fake was to watch for those instant page loads.
Keep an eye out for easy giveaways of a #fakedemo

So what are some ways to make sure what you’re spotting a #fakedemo?

  • Instant page loads: As I mentioned, look for instant page loads or screen changes. Even in 2017, it’s virtually impossible to eliminate screen refresh times.
  • Check the admin or setup: Ask the demo person to see the admin or setup of the app. If you’re watching a canned demo, it’s highly unlikely that this will be recorded. Plus if you’re really interested, it’s a great way to understand how the software is structured.
  • Go off-script: As you’re watching the demo, ask for points of clarification by having the demo person click on different areas or go back to something they just showed. Of course, don’t be a pain and constantly ask to click around.
  • Start typing: With many canned demos, typing is staged. So just ask the demo person to type something you want in a field versus the typing that’s in a canned demo.

One other note…if you’re in a large audience, it may be hard to do these but you may be able to do this during a Q&A session. Happy #fakenews hunting!

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Miguel Tam

Miguel Tam

Feb 15, 2017